Article by Christoph Luetge.
Published in Philosophy & Technology.
The ethics of autonomous cars and automated driving have been a subject of discussion in research for a number of years (cf. Lin 2015; Goodall in Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2424:58–65, 2014; Goodall in IEEE Spectrum 53(6):28–58, 2016). As levels of automation progress, with partially automated driving already becoming standard in new cars from a number of manufacturers, the question of ethical and legal standards becomes virulent. For example, while automated and autonomous cars, being equipped with appropriate detection sensors, processors, and intelligent mapping material, have a chance of being much safer than human-driven cars in many regards, situations will arise in which accidents cannot be completely avoided. Such situations will have to be dealt with when programming the software of these vehicles. In several instances, internationally, regulations have been passed, based on legal considerations of road safety, mostly. However, to date, there have been few, if any, cases of a broader ethics code for autonomous or automated driving preceding actual regulation and being based on a broadly composed ethics committee of independent experts. In July 2016, the German Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Alexander Dobrindt, appointed a national ethics committee for automated and connected driving, which began its work in September 2016. In June 2017, this committee presented a code of ethics which was published in German (with annotations, BMVI 2017a) and in English (cf. BMVI 2017b). It consists of 20 ethical guidelines. Having been a member of this committee, I will present the main ethical topics of these guidelines and the discussions that lay behind them.